Best mobile phones to buy in 2014

Published 
14 Aug 2014
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What's the best mobile phone to buy in 2014? Read our guide to find out...

Smartphones have never been bigger. Long gone are the days when phones just made calls and texts and let you play Snake on the train. Now they're our own personal gateway to the internet; they find us our next cup of coffee, play music, take pictures and stream on-demand films and TV shows. Download the right apps (check out our Best Android Apps if you're stuck for ideas) and they can even replace your car's sat-nav, bringing you real-time travel updates and re-routing your journey if there's a pile-up ten miles down the road. There's almost nothing a smartphone can't do these days, so picking the right one for you is important.

Luckily, the sheer variety of smartphones available means there's something for everyone, regardless of how much money you want to spend. Whether you're looking for the latest flagship model or a cheap sub-£100 handset, there's a smartphone to match. Here's our pick of the bunch, from Android to iOS to Windows Phone.

Nokia Lumia 930 - the best Windows Phone ever made

Nokia Lumia 930

Our Expert Opinion The Lumia 930 is one of Nokia's first handsets to come with Microsoft's latest Windows Phone 8.1 operating system, and what a difference it makes. With a greater focus on personalisation and a complete revamp of several key Nokia apps, WP8.1 makes older Windows Phone 8 handsets look positively old-fashioned by comparison.

Nokia's also pulled out all the stops to make sure the Lumia 930 is one of the most powerful and well-equipped Windows phones ever made. With a quad-core 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, a 20-megapixel camera, a large 5in Full HD AMOLED display and a huge 32GB of storage, there's hardly anything left wanting.

The only slight downside is a slightly underwhelming battery life, but its score of 10 hours and 18 minutes in our continuous video playback test means you should still be able to use it all day even during heavy use. If you're looking for the best Windows phone money can buy, the Lumia 930 is for you.

Price when reviewed: £462 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Nokia Lumia 930 review

Key specs
Processor Quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
Screen size 5in
Screen resolution 1,920x1,080
Rear camera 20-megapixel
Storage 32GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 137x71x9.8mm
Weight 167g
Operating system Windows Phone 8.1

LG G3 - a huge handset with a huge resolution display


Our Expert Opinion All phones need something to help make them stand out from the crowd, but the LG G3 goes one step further. Not only has LG relegated the control buttons to the rear of the phone like the G2 before it, but its large 5.5in display also has a massive 2,560x1,440 resolution, giving it a recording-breaking pixel density of 534 pixels-per-inch.

That's almost double the number of pixels as a phone with a 5.5in Full HD 1,920x1,080 resolution display, making everything noticeably sharper and crisper to the eye. It's a beautiful screen, too, with great colour accuracy and lots of contrast. 

The G3's quad-core 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor also gives it all the power it needs to compete with other flagship Android phones, and its superb battery life of 13 hours and 12 minutes in our continuous video playback test should be more than enough to last you through the day.

Deciding to go with the G3, the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One (m8) will ultimately come down to a matter of personal preference, but if you want the best screen money can buy, there's simply no competition.

Price when reviewed: £490 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full LG G3 review

Key specs
Processor Quad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Screen size 5.5in
Screen resolution 2,560x1,440
Rear camera 13-megapixel
Storage 16GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 146x74x8.9mm
Weight 149g
Operating system Android 4.4.2

Samsung Galaxy S5 - the best Galaxy phone yet

Samsung Galaxy S5

Our Expert Opinion Best seen as a refinement of the already excellent Galaxy S4, the S5 is one of the most powerful smartphones to date. With Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 801 chipset on-board running at a massive 2.5GHz, the Galaxy S5 achieved some of the fastest benchmark scores we've ever seen from an Android smartphone.

With such massive power on tap, we expected the Galaxy S5 to suffer in terms of battery life, but fortunately its energy efficient Qualcomm chip helped the handset reach a best-ever score of 17 hours and 30 minutes in our continuous video rundown test. Compared to the outgoing model, which lasted 10 hours and 43 minutes in the same test, the S5 should easily last you an entire day of moderate-to-heavy use.

The Galaxy S5 has a fantastic screen as well. Samsung's OLED screens have long been a highlight of its phones and the S5 is no exception; the AMOLED panel is one of the best of all the smartphones we've tested. If you've got an older handset, then the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a great choice if you're looking for a new phone.

Price when reviewed: £560 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Samsung Galaxy S5 review

Key specs
Processor Quad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Screen size 5.1in
Screen resolution 1,920x1,080
Rear camera 16-megapixel
Storage 16GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 142x72x8.1mm
Weight 145g
Operating system Android 4.4.2

HTC One (m8) - your new best mate

HTC One (m8)

Our Expert Opinion The HTC One (m8) isn't a radical departure from the original HTC One, but HTC has still made all the necessary upgrades you'd expect from a 2014 flagship handset.

With an all-metal design, faster internals and a larger screen, you could easily mistake the new handset for the original until you turn it over and spot the unique dual camera. The Duo Camera uses the same 4-megapixel 'Ultrapixel' main sensor as the original HTC One, but this time it's paired with a second, depth-sensing camera. Used together, they let you choose the point of focus in an image even after you've pressed the shutter button.

Inside is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 processor, translating into incredibly fast performance, and its Full HD screen is beautiful to look at, too. It's among the best LCD screens we've seen in a smartphone, rivalling the iPhone 5s in terms of brightness and contrast.

It's a tough call between the One (m8) and the Galaxy S5 when it comes to naming the ultimate smartphone, but if you prefer a top class metal body and great speakers, the (m8) is definitely the phone for you.

Price when reviewed: £530 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full HTC One (m8) review

Key specs
Processor Quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Screen size 5in
Screen resolution 1,920x1,080
Rear camera 4-megapixel
Storage 16GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 146x70x9.4mm
Weight 160g
Operating system Android 4.4.2

Apple iPhone 5S - the iPhone gets even better

Apple iPhone 5S

Our Expert Opinion The iPhone 5S is a better phone than its predecessor in almost every single way. The new phone has a brand-new processor, the Apple A7, which makes the 5S the first 64-bit smartphone. It's far faster than the iPhone 5, and in some of our tests we saw double the speed compared to the previous model. In the Sunspider JavaScript benchmark, the 5S completed the test in 416ms instead of 709ms, for example.

The upshot is that iOS is even smoother than ever, with none of the slowdowns you see from Android handsets. There are some other fancy features, such as a motion coprocessor. This can sense when the phone isn’t moving, which is useful in situations such as sitting in a gym locker with no signal; the phone will know that it hasn’t moved in a while, and will stop hunting for a signal, so saving battery life.

Apple has also fitted a sensor in the 5S which is 15% larger than that in the 5. The resolution remains at 8 megapixels, but the extra space means the pixels are bigger and can capture more light. This should lead to more detail in situations with poor lighting. In our tests, we found the iPhone 5S's shots had better exposure and more accurate colours than the iPhone 5's images.

The new iPhone also ships with iOS 7, which is a cleaner, faster and much more flexible operating system than its predecessor. The iPhone 5S is a superb handset which brings Apple's smartphone right back up to the Android competition.

Price when reviewed: £549 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full iPhone 5S review

Key specs
Processor Dual-core 1.3GHz Apple A7
Screen size 4in
Screen resolution 1,136x640
Rear camera 8-megapixel
Storage 16GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 124x58x7.6mm
Weight 112g
Operating system iOS7

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact - a smaller Z1 with all the power of its big brother

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Our Expert Opinion Sony is far from the first manufacturer to release a smaller version of its top-end handset, but while other "mini" phones have cut-down specs compared to the full-size models, Sony has decided that the Z1 Compact should, as far as possible, match up to the full-size Z1.

It may only have a 4.3in screen with a 1,280x720 resolution, but it does have the same quad-core Snapdragon 800 chipset as the Z1, running at the same 2.2GHz speed, and it shares the Z1's 20.7-megapixel camera sensor as well.

Android 4.3 runs incredibly smoothly on the Z1 Compact, and there's plenty of room for apps in the phone's 16GB storage - which is expandable via microSD. The phone also has excellent battery life, lasting 12 hours and 32 minutes in our video playback test.

The Z1 Compact is a powerful smartphone with a great screen and battery life. If you want a powerful smaller phone but don’t want to switch to Apple, it's a great buy.

Price when reviewed: £399 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Key specs
Processor Quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
Screen size 4.3in
Screen resolution 1,280x720
Rear camera 20.7-megapixel
Storage 16GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 127x65x9.5mm
Weight 137g
Operating system Android 4.3

Motorola Moto X - a mid-range master

Motorola Moto X

Our Expert Opinion When Motorola first launched the Moto G last year, it completely redefined what we should expect from a sub-£150 handset, and the Moto X has done exactly the same thing for mid-range smartphones.

With its stunning 4.7in AMOLED screen, the Moto X immediately sets itself apart from the rest of the competition. Image quality is fantastic, and its 1,280x720 resolution looks sharp and crisp.

The Moto X handles Android 4.4 KitKat beautifully thanks to its powerful 1.7GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and web browsing and graphics performance were also impressive. Its 10-megapixel camera produces bright, accurate photos in all lighting conditions, and its huge 12 and a half hour battery life means it should last all day on a single charge.

With plenty of helpful apps from Motorola onboard as well, the Moto X is a great value phone that gives the Nexus 5 a run for its money.

Price when reviewed: £264 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Motorola Moto X review

Key specs
Processor Dual-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
Screen size 4.7in
Screen resolution 1,280x720
Rear camera 10-megapixel
Storage 16GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 129x65x9.8mm
Weight 130g
Operating system Android 4.4.2

Motorola Moto G - an incredible phone that rewrites the budget handbook

Motorola Moto G

Our Expert Opinion Motorola has thrown the budget smartphone rulebook out the window with the Moto G. Here you have an Android smartphone with a quad-core 1.2GHz processor and a high-quality 1,280x720 display, all for a very low price.

It has a simple, no-frills design that feels incredibly well made on its own, but you can always swap the back cover for a coloured version if you want to add a bit of pizazz to your handset. Even better, the Moto G is now available as a 4G handset as well, making it better value than ever before.

The phone's only real disadvantage is its basic 5-megapixel camera, but this a minor drawback that's very forgiveable in a phone this cheap.

Price when reviewed: £135 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Motorola Moto G review

Key specs
Processor Quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
Screen size 4.5in
Screen resolution 1,280x720
Rear camera 5-megapixel
Storage 8GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 130x66x11.6mm
Weight 143g
Operating system Android 4.4.2

Motorola Moto E - an even better value phone than the Moto G

Motorola Moto E

Our Expert Opinion We didn't think it was possible to make a cheaper phone than the Moto G that was just as good value, but Motorola's done it again with the £90 Moto E, making it the perfect phone if you don't want to spend over £100 on a new handset.

For our money, the Moto G is still the ultimate budget phone, but the Moto E feels just as well made and its web browsing performance isn't that far behind its more expensive cousin. It's also got a better battery life than the Moto G, as it lasted just a few minutes shy of 10 hours in our video playback test compared to the Moto G's time of 9 hours and 12 minutes.

Admittedly, the camera isn't that great and its 4.3in screen only has a tiny resolution of 960x540, but if you're looking to buy a child their first phone or simply want a great value budget handset, the Moto E blows the rest of the competition out of the water.

Price when reviewed: £90 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Motorola Moto E review

Key specs
Processor Dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200
Screen size 4.3in
Screen resolution 960x540
Rear camera 5-megapixel
Storage 4GB
Wireless data 3G
Size 125x65x12.3mm
Weight 142g
Operating system Android 4.4.2

Nokia Lumia 1020 - the ultimate camera phone

Nokia Lumia 1020

Our Expert Opinion The Lumia 1020 is the first phone we've seen that can truly replace a compact camera. Its 41-megapixel sensor lets you take astounding shots in both daylight and dark conditions, and the live photo preview makes it a pleasure to mess around with the camera's settings.

Nokia has done some clever stuff with the huge sensor, too. When you're recording video, the extra pixels mean you can zoom into the image and still maintain Full HD quality. The phone can also use a technique called oversampling, where it examines the larger image and keeps only the pixels it thinks are the most accurate, leading to a smaller, high-quality picture.

You also get a beautifully-made Windows Phone handset with a gorgeous screen, so if you want a handset to replace both your phone and camera, the 1020 is the one to have.

Price when reviewed: £600 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Nokia Lumia 1020 review

Key specs
Processor Dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
Screen size 4.5in
Screen resolution 1,280x768
Rear camera 41-megapixel
Storage 32GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 130x71x10.4mm
Weight 159g
Operating system Windows Phone 8

Nokia Lumia 1320 - a great budget Windows Phone phablet


Nokia Lumia 1320

Our Expert Opinion The Nokia Lumia 1320 is a great mid-range Windows phablet. While the camera's by far its weakest point, the Lumia 1320 is a superb alternative to the considerably more expensive Lumia 1520 and we greatly prefer it to other Android phablets such as the HTC One Max and Samsung Galaxy Mega.

Its screen doesn't have the 1520's Full HD resolution, but its 1,280x720 display still provides ample room for apps and icons on the home screen and enough pixels for showing web pages clearly.

The 1320 is also one of the quickest Windows Phones we've tested recently. Its 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor is incredibly quick for a dual-core chip, and the operating system feels easily as smooth and responsive as on the more expensive 1520.

Price when reviewed: £281 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Nokia Lumia 1320 review

Key specs
Processor Dual-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
Screen size 6in
Screen resolution 1,280x720
Rear camera 5-megapixel
Storage 8GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 164x86x9.8mm
Weight 220g
Operating system Windows Phone 8

Samsung Galaxy Note 3 - no other huge Android phablet comes close

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Our Expert Opinion Samsung created the huge phone market, and the Note 3 is the latest iteration of its big screen/stylus-equipped smartphone. The Note 3 has a 5.7in Full HD display, and it's a beauty, with punchy, vibrant colours and fantastic contrast.

The Note 3's main selling point has to be its stylus, which helps you use the big screen for everything from drawing to scribbling to writing. Samsung has included several apps which take advantage of the stylus, and the Note also has some custom multitasking features. These allow you to run a couple of apps at once in split-screen mode, turning the Note 3 into a useful productivity device.

It's a fast handset, thanks to a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, and despite all this power managed a huge 15 hours of video playback, which is one of the best results we've seen in our battery life test. The 13-megapixel camera is also one of the better smartphone models we've seen. If you're after the perfect handheld to bridge the gap between phone and tablet, the Note 3 is it.

Price when reviewed: £620 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review

Key specs
Processor Quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
Screen size 5.7in
Screen resolution 1,920x1,080
Rear camera 13-megapixel
Storage 32GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 151x79x8.3mm
Weight 168g
Operating system Android 4.3

Nokia Lumia 1520 - the king of Windows Phone phablets


Nokia Lumia 1520

Our Expert Opinion The Lumia 1520 was the first Lumia to have a Full HD 1,920x1,080 display and its impressive 6in screen certainly doesn't disappoint. Its IPS panel may not have quite the same appeal or contrast as the Lumia 1020, but its whites are bright and pure and the resolution helps keep everything looking sharp and clear.

The phone is as beautifully made as most Nokia Lumias, with a wrap-around polycarbonate body that feels both tough and fantastic to hold. The 1520 is fast, too, thanks to a 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 processor. The operating system is beautifully smooth and there's almost never any hesitation when browsing the web.

The 1520 isn't a particularly ground-breaking phone, but it's still a supremely competent Windows Phone phablet.

Price when reviewed: £600 SIM free. For the latest prices, see our full Nokia Lumia 1520 review

Key specs
Processor Quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
Screen size 6in
Screen resolution 1,920x1,080
Rear camera 20-megapixel
Storage 16GB
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 163x85x8.7mm
Weight 209g
Operating system Windows Phone 8

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WHERES THE NEXUS 5 DIPSHITS

Must try the Waze

Where's my MicroMax********!! :)

Where is Photo4tune? That seems to be the only missing app from this otherwise great list! :)

Nexus 5 hands down. No bulky addition, latest updates, as cheap as it gets.

Great stuff Katharine, came across your blog while searching and found what I was looking for. Thanks for sharing.